I flew from Paris to Marrakesh constantly on the look-out for a cute brunette with a yoga mat named Ashley. I didn’t find her until we landed, and I overheard another girl ask if she was going to a yoga retreat. I promptly asked them both about the yoga retreat and came to meet Ashley (a flight attendant from Seattle) and Faiza (a lawyer from New York City). We found our driver holding a sign reading Alma Retreats (the retreat company owned and operated by my friend Stacey), got in the SUV, and watched in horror, excitement, and awe as we darted through the tiny streets of Marrakesh barely missing people, bikes, wagons, donkeys, and small children. The car stopped, and we were instructed to get out and grab our bags. The driver then led us through a maze of narrow streets filled again with people, carts, motor bikes, bikes, and donkeys. Thirty-foot, adobe-like walls surrounded us on either side making it difficult to tell what direction we were going. We turned right and walked toward a children’s school. We turned right again and saw a dead end with a door, no sign. We rang the bell, the door opened, and we stepped through the opening into the beautiful oasis of Zam Zam Riad, our home for a couple of nights. A beautiful plunge pool greeted us and then opened to a small courtyard flooded by sunlight filtered by a palm tree taller than the building itself. The outside walls, all white, had large cutouts revealing the hallways and doors that led to all the rooms and extended three stories above us on all four sides. I marveled at the details of this place: the brass cut-out light fixtures that cast beautiful shapes on the walls and ceilings, the tassels at every corner and turn in every color, the delicate embroidery detail on the pillows and window treatments. It was unlike anything I had seen before, and I knew Morocco was going to be a memorable experience.
Faiza, Ashley, and I roomed together along with Sam who joined us later. After we were settled, we all found our way to the rooftop to do our first yoga practice with Kevin Lamb. And what a practice! It was one of the most intense two-hour practices I had done and included a one-legged side plank that turned into the front splits. I’m still working on that one. After the practice we freshened up for dinner and all sat at a long table draped in a white cloth under the palm tree and night sky. We were about to experience our first round of Moroccan tajine, a style of slow cooking in a clay dish with a conical lid. We had aubergine (eggplant) salad and bread, tajine with chicken and vegetables and rice. I know we had dessert at the end but I cannot remember. I was so full of delicious food. I went to bed satisfied and wondering what the next day would hold.
I awoke the next morning at the 5am call to prayer. The calls are five times a day over loud speakers all across the city. I tried to go back to sleep but just laid in bed until we started our vigorous yoga practice. Breakfast couldn’t come quickly enough for me. I was so hungry that I devoured the fruit, pancakes, omelets, and bread with various jellies, butter, and honey. Moroccan mint tea is served at almost every meal and throughout the day, and I enjoyed the calming effect it had on my stomach after eating so much. My next mission was to prepare for a tour of the town and a bit of shopping in the souks (markets). Brahim, our guide, met us and led us through the crazy maze of the walled streets through the courtyard of a mosque, past a fountain, and to an apothecary. We smelled and tried all sorts of different concoctions, but the one I purchased was black cumin. We wrapped a small amount in a thin cloth, crushed it by rolling it in our hands, and then smelled it. The effect was close to eating a large ball a wasabi – incredibly opening in the sinuses. After spending a significant amount of time and money in Herboriste Du Paradis, we left to get lost deep in the markets of Morocco amidst the colors, confusion, crafts, and chaos. “Where you from? Oh, good place. Look in my store. You like? I give you Morocco price.” I think every salesperson said this to us as we walked through the tight corridors made of small stalls filled with leather shoes, wooden boxes, brass lamps, hamam towels, and leather bags. Turns into turns into dead ends and back and suddenly we were in an open courtyard with snake charmers, monkey owners, food stands, goods stands, and restaurants. We met up with another part of our group that had gone shopping at a warehouse and then walked back to Zam Zam for yoga and dinner.
The next morning started early and with no yoga. We drove to the Sahara desert and made a few stops along the way. We saw women grinding almonds to make argan oil. We looked at carpets in a massive (and extremely expensive) carpet store. We stayed for one night close to the Casbah where part of Game of Thrones was filmed. We drove through a forest of palm trees. We tried not to get sick on the incredibly windy mountain roads. And at the end, we raced. Four, four-wheel-drive vehicles bouncing through the dunes of the Sahara to our camp.
We arrived to find large white tents in two rows with covered candles lighting the way to the resting and dining tents. Each tent was divided into two sections on the inside: two beds in one area and a bucket of water, shelf with mirror, and bucket with a toilet seat in the other. We learned that we would be “flushing” the toilet by putting a scoop of sand in the bucket when we finished. That night, I stepped on the rug in front of our toilet and found it sopping wet and the bucket surprisingly empty. We got a new bucket the next day. You can’t expect perfection when glamping in the desert.
Once the sun came up, the flies came out. They didn’t bite, but they did swarm. Each person had their own fleet of 50 flies at all times. We did yoga shrouded in our turbine scarves, trying to keep the flies from crawling on us. Once the coolness of the morning evaporated, the heat set in. Because the tents had no ventilation, taking an afternoon nap inside felt like trying to sleep in a sauna. We sought refuge under the shade of the open-air dining tent and played Farkle (an amazingly fun dice game that Danielle, our NYC bar owner friend, taught us) while drinking water, sometimes with ice. Then the sun set, and the flies went to sleep, and the Sahara nights charmed us into forgetting the days by offering uninhibited views of the galaxies and sweet, cool breezes. We ate lavishly and drank wine with dinner. Then everyone sat around or danced by the fire as the locals played drums and sang. I drummed with them a couple times and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The Sahara left many memories: the camel ride that was supposed to be at noon ended up happening at sunset because of a sick camel (thanks camel!), the walk around the dunes with the locals telling us about their lives, my solo walk along the ridges to take it all in. It was truly like no other place I have ever been.
On the day we were to return, half the group caught the “epidemic,” which was terrible for an eight-hour car ride through the very windy mountains back to Marrakesh. I thought I had escaped, but it was not to be. I ate lunch, and then the car ride turned into a nightmare of unending turns, swerves, jolts, bumps, inevitably stops. We all eventually made it back to Zam Zam and with great relief, I went to bed. It wasn’t a great way to end the trip. Some people left early the next morning. I laid low, still feeling terrible, but took advantage of getting a hammam bath (someone else scrubs and bathes you, which was exactly what I needed in my state of illness).
A few of us stayed an extra day in Marrakesh, and after the sickness finally subsided, we all went shopping in the souks again before preparing to see the beach side of Morocco in Essaouira . We stayed at an amazing little place jointly owned by a couple, she was from France and he was from Morocco. She said they met 15 years previously on the beach only a short distance away. For a few days we enjoyed each others’ company, the markets in the town, and a great little French restaurant that was only a few blocks from our rooms. We did not, however, enjoy the beach. Unfortunately, torrential rains flooded the area and the water closest to the shore was brown. Oh well. It was chilly anyway. Then, we all started going our own way. Alicia, Ashley, and I met Faiza in Paris for a day, and then Alicia and I met up in London before my flight home. Then, the magical trip ended, and I was again in Colorado.